The 2011-2012 NHL regular season is finally upon us. Each team has a clean slate to start the season, and last season is now a distant memory. In the chaos of the Western Conference, attempting to predict who will end up in the playoffs and who won't is extremely difficult. It's very competitive every year, and this year won't be an exception. Here are my predictions for the regular season in the Western Conference:
1. Vancouver- The Canucks are still loaded with talent, and also play in the weakest division in the Western Conference. The Sedin twins will have another big year, and Ryan Kesler will continue to be a force on both sides of the ice.
2. Los Angeles- The Kings have had a very eventful off season to say the least. Drew Doughty finally signed last week, and they added a lot of guys like Mike Richards and Simon Gagne that will help them. I expect them to be neck and neck with the Sharks all season, but LA will win the Pacific Division.
3. Detroit- There is going to be a year when the Red Wings fall off and end up near the basement of the Western Conference. This year will not be that year. The Red Wings have lots of veteran talent, and they simply know how to win. They'll win the Central Division once again this year, but it will be a tight race.
4. San Jose- The Sharks got rid of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, and added Martin Havlat and Brent Burns from Minnesota. To me, it's a very smart move. I think San Jose will be more of a complete team this year, but will fall just short of winning the Pacific Division.
5. Nashville- The Predators will once again be better than people think. Why? Because they always are. Nashville will challenge Detroit for the Central Division title, and will make the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.
6. Chicago- The Blackhawks will be a better and more consistent team this year. They added a little bit of grit, and won't have the Stanley Cup hangover that they did last year. They'll be right in the mix with Nashville and Detroit.
7. Minnesota- The Wild made a few additions in the off season, which I think will get them into the playoffs. Niklas Backstrom will have a better year in net, and the Wild will also benefit by playing Edmonton and Colorado six times apiece.
8. Anaheim- The Ducks have the best top line in hockey with Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. When you add Teemu Selanne to the mix, the Ducks have significant offensive ability. However, the team isn't very deep past that. They will squeak into the playoffs.
9. St. Louis- The Blues will be a very tough team to play against this year. They have added veterans like Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, and still have good young players in T.J. Oshie. The final playoff spot will be determined on the last day, but I think the Blues just miss out.
10. Columbus- The Blue Jackets added Jeff Carter and James Wisnewski to the mix for this year. While those moves will certainly help them, a good hockey team consists of more than three good players. There are still serious questions in goal and on defense.
11. Dallas- The Stars came extremely close to making the playoffs last year. They added Michael Ryder from the Boston Bruins, but also lost Brad Richards to free agency. The Stars will still be in playoff contention, but will not make it.
12. Calgary- The Flames have great leadership with Jarome Iginla. I just don't see how they got dramatically better from last year to this year. The Flames will struggle this year, but still be the 3rd best team in the division.
13. Phoenix- The Coyotes have several questions surrounding the franchise this year. Will they be relocated? Can they continue their success during the regular season? I think it's going to be hard for the Coyotes to make the playoffs this year. Goaltending will be a huge issue all year.
14. Edmonton- Cellar dwellers no more, the Oilers will show moderate improvement this year. They have all kinds of young talent. It just takes time to develop that talent. They will miss the playoffs by a considerable margin, but they won't be in the basement of the league.
15. Colorado- It's going to be a rough year in Denver. They totally collapsed at the end of last season, and goaltending will once again be an issue for the Avalanche. Expect Colorado to be the worst team in the league.